TODAY, 16 days after Russia launched its “special military operations” in Ukraine, I can’t help but think that President Biden, viewed by many Americans as an unclever president, may have played the wily Vladimir Putin, who after all may have fallen to that cancer of rulers who rule too long — hubris.
Consider the state of play at the moment. Putin’s euphemism — “special military operations” — points to his calculation that his invasion would be a quick surgical strike.
It would drive President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former comic actor, to flee to the US, or even prod the Ukrainian parliament to remove him, to be replaced by a more realistic president who would steer the country to an Austrian or Finland model of neutrality toward the West and Russia.
Russian forces would then quickly withdraw, after a few Ukrainian casualties if any, with that enfeebled country promising, and enshrining it in its constitution, never to join the anti-Russian Cold War military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
That calculation has proven to be catastrophically wrong. Ukrainians — at least going by reports in the pro-Ukraine Western media — have chosen to fight, even as about 2 million Ukrainian women and children have pitifully sought refuge in neighboring countries. More and more news videos are broadcast of Russian missiles ruthlessly killing civilians — and as several US media have pointed out, revealing their racism, “they are not Iraqis nor Afghans but white people,” not in strange clothes but in the thick winter coats that Europeans and Americans see in their sidewalks and malls. Even jaded journalists’ eyes would certainly mist at seeing the cutest Ukrainian toddler struggling to keep up with his mother, a crowd or evacuees around them. Probably the worst so far that the Russians have done is to bomb to smithereens a maternity hospital, with premature babies’ incubators shown in video clips thrown all over.
If Biden had been pissed off with Putin, the entire world now loathes him. An unprecedented 141 countries of the United Nations backed a resolution condemning his invasion of Ukraine, with only five voting against it. The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into Putin’s actions in Ukraine at the request of 39 countries, toward indicting him as a war criminal.
Putin, the ruler of the Russia that had defeated the great Nazi scourge, would be reduced to the level of former African warlords that the ICC is now investigating for war crimes. The Russia that gave the world Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky who wrote the best narratives of the human condition, would henceforth be known as the land of baby-killers. Putin would eclipse Stalin as Russia’s bloodiest ruler.
I don’t think Putin nor his generals ever thought it would be this bad. The invasion has also exposed Russia’s military weaknesses, among them, its very insufficient logistics system to swiftly defeat an enemy with only a fifth of its military strength. The sanctions imposed by the US and the West make up the harshest economic weaponry ever inflicted by the wealthiest bloc of countries against a single country. It is not unlikely that the Russian economy could collapse, which is the same reason why the USSR imploded, at that time because of its mammoth expenses to invent and build a “Star Wars” laser-using defense system that US President Ronald Reagan had fooled them into thinking the Americans were close to installing.
Russians will suffer and they will blame Putin, and demonstrations against him will grow bigger and bigger everyday, at a time when Russia has already dismantled much of the repressive systems of the old USSR.
Russia will step down as a superpower, just as the USSR did three decades ago. US imperialism wins, and secures all of Europe, both the West and East, as its uncontested domain. Russia, the Soviet remnant, is beaten. Next: China.
How did Putin fall for Biden’s trap? The US, and its staunchest and biggest allies in Europe, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, had openly campaigned through the years to integrate the former Soviet satellite states, all weak or small countries, into their economies, which require their being placed under its imperial set-up, the NATO. Organized with 12 members in 1949 to provide mainly a US (nuclear) shield against the nuclear-armed USSR, the NATO following the dissolution of the USSR expanded to include many of the former Soviet republics — reportedly betraying a promise to the last USSR head Mikhail Gorbachev that it would not do so.
Not only that, the US entered into “enhanced defense cooperation agreements” (EDCA) with Bulgaria (2006), Romania (2005) and Poland (2020) that allowed US military forces to use their military bases as jump-off platforms for a war in the region, with Russia obviously as a target, just as the Aquino 3rd regime’s EDCA that it signed with the US in 2013 had China as a target.
Putin told NATO that Ukraine, a “brother nation” to Russia culturally and historically, was the red line. Beyond the romanticism, Ukraine shares a long border with Russia, and an attack from the West would be through Ukraine. The US campaigned to turn the Ukrainian intelligentsia into turning pro-West through its swarm of NGOs and media outlets funded by US government-funded NGOs, such as the National Endowment For Democracy (yes, the main funder of Rappler, VERA Files and many other anti-Duterte NGOs).
What convinces me that Biden provoked Putin into his “special military operations” is that he had the US and Ukraine sign a Charter on Strategic Partnership on November 10 last year, declaring America’s support for Ukraine’s right to pursue NATO membership. The charter declared the US commitment to assist Ukraine’s efforts “to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions, and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions against or related to Russia and applying other relevant measures until restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
That was also a clear message to NATO to invite Ukraine ASAP into the alliance and accept it immediately. And if Ukraine became NATO member, any attack on it by Russia — even to defend ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s two secessionist areas against genocide — would be an attack on the US, the UK, Germany and other NATO members. Ukraine might send troops to recover Crimea, and if the Russian army were to fight them it would have the entire NATO as its enemies.
After that agreement was signed, Russia began massing troops on the Ukrainian border. Whether Putin initially issued an ultimatum to Ukraine to rescind the partnership or he will invade, we do not know. US intelligence likely fed the Russians the story that Biden was a weak leader, even nearing senility, and that he would just react with economic sanctions to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, just as another Democratic president, Barack Obama, did when it invaded and annexed Crimea in February 2014.
Putin thought he had no other options but to move quickly before Ukraine does become a NATO member. Biden and his innermost circle must have popped a champagne bottle to celebrate.
After 16 days invading Ukraine, Putin has limited options, none of which is palatable to him personally.
One would be for Putin, his country buckling under the economic sanctions, to stop his “special military operations,” withdraw his troops and gather his army at the borders like a wounded bear retreating and licking his wounds but still ready to attack. Russia had the other day reportedly sent a message to the Ukrainians that Russian troops would immediately cease its operations on two conditions. First, for Ukraine to promise never to join NATO, and to write this into its Constitution.
Second is for Ukraine to formally recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and recognize the two Russian-backed separatist republics in east Ukraine bordering Russia. The Russian elite though would be demanding his head for leading the country to suffer such a terrible loss of military resources, and for making Russia the most hated country in the world.
My bet is that the US, sensing a wounded bear, will dissuade Ukraine from accepting, to humble Russia. The US will instead tell Ukraine to demand that Russian troops first withdraw immediately without any conditions, before any compromise can be discussed.
But wounded beasts can be more dangerous — and even suicidal. Putin could one way or another still press the nuclear trigger. As the renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky put it in reference to such a possibility, Putin would then sign the “death warrant for the species, with no victors.” Ukraine is not just Putin’s quagmire, it is ours.
Biden may have very smartly provoked Putin to invade Ukraine. But he may also have provoked the war that would end life on the planet. And in that scenario, Russia might not even want to drop a nuclear bomb on Ukraine anymore, so more could be used on US and European cities.
Impossible? Never in our worst nightmares did we think there would be a global pandemic which took 6 million lives in two years. Damn it, after two years of the plague, we are now living in even more dangerous times.
My series on the myth of widespread human rights violations during the Marcos years will resume Monday.
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